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Gunung Padang: Paper claiming “world’s oldest pyramid” retracted by journal

Late last year the ancient site of Gunung Padang in Indonesia garnered worldwide media attention after the publication of a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Archaeological Prospection that made the astonishing claim that the site could the world’s oldest pyramid – and not just by a little bit: the paper suggested that it could be 28,000 years old (for reference, the Giza pyramids in Egypt are estimated to be ‘only’ 5,000 years old).

The claim wasn’t actually that new – we wrote about it back in 2018 – but the fact that it had now been published in a peer-reviewed journal lent a great more deal of credibility to it. And given Gunung Padang had been featured in Graham Hancock’s huge Netflix hit documentary series Ancient Apocalypse the year previous, a lot more people probably recognised the location the news articles were talking about.

Orthodox archaeologists and skeptics were quick to hit back against the claim, and those objections also made worldwide news (e.g. New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine). And now, the criticisms seem to have won the day (at least for now). as the journal has now officially retracted the paper.

According to the retraction notice:

The above article, published online on 20 October 2023 in Wiley Online Library, has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editors-in-Chief, Eileen Ernenwein and Gregory Tsokas, and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Following publication of this article, concerns were raised by third parties with expertise in geophysics, archaeology, and radiocarbon dating, about the conclusions drawn by the authors based on the evidence reported. The publisher and the Co-Editors-in-Chief have investigated these concerns and have concluded that the article contains a major error. This error, which was not identified during peer review, is that the radiocarbon dating was applied to soil samples that were not associated with any artifacts or features that could be reliably interpreted as anthropogenic or “man-made.” Therefore, the interpretation that the site is an ancient pyramid built 9000 or more years ago is incorrect, and the article must be retracted. Danny Hilman Natawidjaja responded on behalf of the authors, all of whom disagree with the retraction.

The retraction note does not provide the response from the authors, unfortunately (and perhaps unfairly?) However, it can be read at Danny Hilman Natawidjaja’s Facebook page, where it was posted earlier today on behalf of all the authors, who “express profound disappointment at the unwarranted retraction”, along with contextual documentation such as the email exchanges leading up to the retraction.

The full text is reproduced below, along with a link to the contextual documentation:

The Unjust Retraction of Groundbreaking Research: A Call for Academic Integrity

We, the authors, express profound disappointment at the unwarranted retraction of our paper titled “Geoarchaeological Prospecting of Gunung Padang Buried Pre-Historic Pyramid in West Java, Indonesia,” published in Archaeological Prospection by Wiley on October 20, 2023 (Enclosure # 1). The retraction is solely based on unfounded claims raised by third parties who hold differing opinions and disbelieve in the evidence, analysis, and conclusions (Enclosure # 2). Despite our diligent efforts to address and refute the unfounded claims with robust scientific data (Enclosures #3 & #4), the Wiley team chose to align with the assertions of anonymous individuals. To our knowledge, neither the anonymous third parties nor the Wiley Team has provided conclusive evidence or offered sufficient scientific rationale to substantiate their decision to retract our paper based on an alleged major error (Enclosure #5).

Was the decision to retract our paper a severe form of censorship, blatantly disregarding the fundamental principles of scientific inquiry, transparency, and fairness in academic discourse?

We urge the academic community, scientific organizations, and concerned individuals to stand with us in challenging this decision and upholding the principles of integrity, transparency, and fairness in scientific research and publishing.

As elucidated in our paper and further expounded upon in our correspondence (Enclosure #3), the soil samples extracted from the rock-construction layers, identified as Units 1, 2, and 3, have been unequivocally established as man-made constructions or archaeological features, rather than natural geological formations. These layers are accompanied by numerous small portable artifacts, providing tangible evidence of their anthropogenic origin. Moreover, our interpretation does not simply propose the existence of an ancient pyramid built 9,000 or more years ago but rather suggests the presence of a complex structure comprising three construction-rock layers erected in distinct phases: 1,000 – 2,000 BCE (Unit 1), 5,500 – 6,000 BCE (Unit 2), and 14,000 – 25,000 BCE (Unit 3).

For instance, if they dispute the assertion that the rock layers (Unit 1, 2, 3) are man-made structures, they must provide an alternative geological explanation for their shapes, composition, and arrangement. Moreover, the presence of numerous stone artifacts in Units 1, 2, and 3, as evidenced by additional figures provided to them (Enclosure#4), further bolster our arguments. Consequently, the retraction lacks scientific validity, as it overlooks the substantial evidence presented in our paper and correspondence supporting our conclusions. Instead, it disregards this evidence without proper consideration or explanation, effectively ‘burying’ it (Enclosure #5).

In light of the aforementioned concerns, we have appended the original article, a given document of the third-party critiques, our correspondence with the Wiley team, additional data, and our response to the retraction notice below.

The Authors of the Paper

(Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, Andang Bachtiar, Bagus Endar B. Nurhandoko, Ali Akbar, Pon Purajatnika, Mudrik R. Daryono, Dadan D. Wardhana, Andri S. Subandriyo, Andi Krisyunianto, Tagyuddin, Budianto Ontowiryo, and Yusuf Maulana)


Can be downloaded at Dropbox


1. The Article “Geoarchaeological Prospecting of Gunung Padang Buried Pre-Historic Pyramid in West Java, Indonesia” includes Vast Complementary Figures
2. Document of Critiques by the Third Parties, provided by the Wiley Team on December 19, 2023
3. Transcript of Email Correspondences between the Wiley Team and the Authors, including the Author’s rebuttal
4. Extra figures accompany the authors’ rebuttal on February 5, 2024.
5. Official Retraction Notice and Author’s Comments.

The controversy over Gunung Padang seems far from settled, with much more debate likely.

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